Sunday, August 12, 2012

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

What a master of plot twists! Stead can take seemingly unrelated events and weave them into a surprising, unpredictable story with kooky and engaging characters. Seventh grader Georges has just moved, his dad has lost his job, and his best friend has decided to hang with the cool kids. Georges deals with it in his own way and starts to make new friends at school and in his new home at an apartment building in New York. His dad is an architect who writes in perfectly even block letters which they teach in architecture school. I laughed hard at that. My dad and brother are architects and write in perfectly even block letters. I tried to copy them but could never eliminate my loopy letters. They are perfect and I'm loopy. But I digress. 

For Georges nothing is quite as it seems. Safer, a boy he meets in the apartment who is his age, likes to live on the edge, sneaking into other peoples apartments, spying on neighbors, and watching parrots nesting. Candy looks like she's 7-years-old, but she doesn't sound like one. Pigeon, the older brother, is hated by Safer for going to school instead of being home-schooled with Safer and Candy.The teacher's are idiots who seem to know what they are doing with students. They aren't so great at controlling bullies however. Dallas has pegged Georges as his victim to bully. When Georges discovers the lies that surround him, he has to decide if he should confront the hidden truths.

The beginning uses changing relationships, as well as, Georges parents moving and losing a job to add tension. Stead does a great job painting tension with conciseness and descriptive language, I'm hearing a sound. It's a funny, high-pitched buzzing that I think maybe I've been hearing for a while, without noticing. There should be a word for that, when you hear something and simultaneously realize that its been swimming in your brain for five minutes without your permission. This takes on a whole different meaning by the end of the story when George decides to face the truth. Stead is one of the few authors that I read and want to turn around and reread the book immediately so I can see the clues I missed the first time around. 

The humor in the story is sprinkled throughout from the Seurat painting that Georges calls Sir-Ott to Candy who is addicted to candy. She tells Georges she is going to marry someone who likes orange candy, because she hates it, and that way her partner will eat only the orange candy and she'll get the rest. Speaking of Sir-Ott, I have had funny conversations with 5th graders reminiscing about words they mixed up when they were younger. One thought her brother was going to See Attel versus Seattle. Which brings me to my next point. When I read as an adult sometimes I can interfere with the joy of the story. Take for instance, Candy. I found myself annoyed because Georges said she was about 7-years-old but she never sounded like one. And being a putz at details I thought he said she was 7-years-old. She was using words beyond a 1st graders vocabulary such as "seasonal" or "human being" and I was surprised that Stead, who is so brilliant with details, could miss this fact. I wrote in my reading journal to Get Over It because Candy is a fun character and I much prefer her in the story sounding too old than not in it at all (and kids are not going to notice the vocabulary as high). So I moved on. Then, I get to page 95 and Candy tells Georges shes 10-years-old. Ha! Jokes on me. Count on Stead to create a character who is not what she seems.

I did think some of the tension dribbles slightly in the middle part of the story, such as when Georges and Safer are staring at the screen of the front lobby. It ties in with the end and is necessary to the plot but I did lose my focus a tad. (I am somewhat hyper.)The story ends with a bang so if you are an impatient reader, stick with it, because it is a winner.

No reading level
5 out of 5 Smileys

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